Opinion: Stop Wishing for an Elected King

There's a Schoolhouse Rock song about this.
There's a Schoolhouse Rock song about this. Photo by Tom Hilton/Flickr
“Our ‘founding parents’ were pompous, white, middle-aged farmers, but they were also great men. Because they knew one thing that all great men should know: that they didn't know everything. Sure, they'd make mistakes, but they made sure to leave a way to correct them. The president is not an ‘elected king,’ no matter how many bombs he can drop. Because the ‘crude’ Constitution doesn't trust him.”

-Joe Pesci as Simon Wilder in With Honors

It’s truly disturbing how intersectional anti-democracy sentiments are in America right now, whether the people pushing those ideas realize it or not.

On the right, it’s obvious. More than a hundred people have been convicted after participating in the January 6 assault on the capital, an act that blatantly tried to overturn the electoral loss of former President Donald Trump. Trump himself was impeached for the part he played in instigating that assault and is also facing possible indictment for trying to flip votes in Georgia.

Here in Houston, the Republican-controlled state government signed into laws that can be used to seize control of Harris County elections under the pretense of fraud without being forced to provide evidence of it. It’s just the latest in a long line of attempts by the state to cripple the power of increasingly Democratic city centers. For conservatives, anti-democracy is essentially a full-on brand at this point.

On the left, the anti-democracy viewpoint is more subtle, but no less present. I noticed it during the manic days of the first Bernie Sanders campaign, but it’s metastasized into a grievance-based longing for authoritarianism in the Biden Administration.

Hang out with a lot of American leftists and you’ll run across this conviction: Democrats can make grand sweeping changes, but they choose not to because they are secretly conservatives. This belief is in complete opposition to observable political reality, but it remains an article of faith.

Many of them truly believe that President Joe Biden could legalize weed, cancel all student loan debt, ban assault rifles, or institute Medicare-for-All tomorrow with the stroke of a pen. Since he doesn’t, he must not want to, ergo, he is no different than a Republican.

I get the frustration. There's definitely more Biden could be doing, and millions of Americans are hurting badly every day those things don’t get done. That said, the world is not made better by ceding more unquestioned authority to the president, even for things that would objectively make life better.

It is always weird to me that people who consider themselves the radical left are so giddy at the idea of a single elected executive ruling like a king, even benevolently. A functional democracy can and should have limits on his power. That's why so much of what Trump tried to do ultimately fizzled.

Anything that Biden just ordered done would have two possible outcomes. One, immediate legal challenge that would end up before the 6-3 conservative U.S. Supreme Court. We’re seeing that with the more moderate student loan plan he already tried to institute. Why would blanket loan forgiveness fare any differently?

Or two, the next Republican president simply undoes all of it, throwing what little benefit was enacted into disarray and chaos. The social safety net that the left craves relies on security and stability. That’s where the funding for important programs comes from. Ask Planned Parenthood how easy it is to operate when their existential foundation is constantly being attacked.

Like it or not, that is an agonizingly slow process that requires pushing the entire nation leftwards inch by inch. The right doesn’t have this problem because it is almost always easier to use an existing system to discriminate and oppress.

Pretending that the President is an elected king who can personally right all the wrongs is only going to bring disappointment because it’s a complete delusion reality will not bend to. That disappointment turns into anger and despair. Once you’re sure that Democrats are operating on spite for the left rather than fighting for their political existence during a massive resurgence of fascism, it’s easy to convince yourself that the entire democracy is too flawed to continue.

Pretending that the President is an elected king who can personally right all the wrongs is only going to bring disappointment.

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That prospect is terrifying because the fall of American democracy will never favor the left. America has been toppling left-wing insurgencies at home and abroad for more than a century. There is simply no reason to think a leftist revolution here would end well. Unless you’re willing to murder tens of millions of people, conservatives are always going to be a factor in American politics.

The only thing that kept this country from falling into dictatorship during the Trump era was a robust set of checks and balances and the slow trudge of representational democracy. Things that could have stopped Trump largely did because the country was founded on the idea that kings are bad, and that idea is woven into the entire system. Eating away at that foundational tenet is asking for the right to take total control. Equating Democrats and Republicans only ever benefits the right.

Be glad that Biden can’t do more because those limits might be extremely important in the very near future. The anger at the system is valid because things are harmful and unfair, but longing for an authoritarian who will order all things as he sees fit has resulted in horrific human rights abuses in 100 percent of cases.

No all-powerful President can or should be trusted.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner